Not in Kansas Anymore

It's June 27, 1969. Judy Garland just died. Nearly every gay man in Manhattan is at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn drowning his sorrows and hoping that there is indeed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Then the cops show up on one of their usual gay-bar raids, hoping to arrest some grieving men for engaging in illegal homosexual acts.

It was too much. For the first time in history, gays (even drag queens) fought back. In fact, eyewitnesses say the riot began when a particularly burly regular threw a metal garbage can full of empty liquor bottles through a police car window.

Stonewall was the militant spark that ignited the fight for gay and lesbian rights, and it is the momentous event that gay and lesbian pride committees, parties, festivals and parades all over the world commemorate.

But 30 years later, there's no need to throw heavy trash cans. Longtime Pride Committee member Jack Valinsky says the Houston Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade is a family-oriented celebration ("no matter what type of family you are") and a "thank-you to the community for all its volunteer work." In these more progressive days, it's not unlikely to see employee groups from conservative oil companies marching alongside a Wizard of Oz float sponsored by Gallery Furniture.

Sure, there have been Pride Parade protesters. A couple of years ago, a group showed up with signs, Valinsky says, but they arrived in the afternoon, not realizing the parade had been moved to the evening. When the festivities finally got going, the protesters were so worn down by waiting in the sun that they didn't make a peep.

Houston's Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade was transformed into a Mardi Gras-inspired night parade in 1997, in an attempt to jump-start crowds that were dwindling due to buzz-kills like AIDS, conservative referendums and unbearable summer heat. It worked. Houston's only nighttime parade attracted over 70,000 people last year.

The Pride Committee is expecting even more this weekend, thanks to the help of a not-so-secret weapon: a giant, mirrored disco ball that will hang over the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose. "We want basically the same things everybody else wants," says Valinsky, "with a little pizzazz, of course."

-- Lauren Kern

The parade begins at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at Westheimer and Woodhead, and proceeds east to Taft. Info: (713)529-6929; www.pridehouston. org. Free.

 
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